We just completed a class called Phonemics. No doubt you’ve heard of phonetics, which has to do with the different sounds in a language. Phonemics also involves the different sounds in a language, but it has more to do with the analysis and classification of those sounds. You probably don’t care about all the details involved in analyzing a language, but I thought you might enjoy seeing some fun examples in the English language of the kind of thing we’re working with.

In the English language, we have too many consonants and not enough vowels. For example, the letter “x” is not needed. In each word it is used, it could be replaced with either “cks,” as in “ox,” or “z,” as in “xylophone.”  And each vowel we have is used for more than one sound. The one letter “a” is used to represent a different sound in each of these words: apple, allude, ate.  But not only do the single-letter vowels represent multiple sounds, there are some letter combinations that represent different sounds, as in the different pronunciations of “ough” in each of the following words: Though, through, rough, cough.

English is messed up! It is one of the few languages in which Spelling B’s could even exist; in most languages, if you know how a word is pronounced, there could only be one way to spell it.

One thing we must consider when analyzing a language is how the native speakers of a particular language view the sounds in their language.  There may be multiple sounds that they view as the same sound. In  English, we view many different sounds as the “t” sound. The “t” in the word “water” is not really a phonetic “t” sound. It is actually a “flapped r” sound, as in the Spanish word “pero.” But, we perceive it to be a t sound (You can see why I say that by watching a parent slowly pronounce the word “Wa-ter” to their kids. They probably won’t use a flapped r. They use the actual t sound when they slow the word down to teach it to someone).

Also, every single native English speaker pronounces t’s that are at the beginning of words a little bit differently than we pronounce t’s  that are in the middle or the end of words. The t sound that we use at the beginning of words is actually an “aspirated t,” which is a completely different phonetic sound than an “unaspirated t,” which we use when a t is in the middle or end of a word (If a consonant is aspirated, it means that a puff of air is released when we make the sound). You may not even be able to tell the difference between the sounds if you listen to yourself, but native speakers of many other languages think the aspirated consonants we use in English (initial t’s, p’s and k’s) sound awful, especially when we carry them over to their languages. For example, in the Spanish language, no consonants are ever aspirated, but we native English speakers, when speaking Spanish, tend to aspirate the t’s p’s and k’s that are at the beginning of Spanish words, and that is one of the many little things that gives us a foreign accent when we speak Spanish. Likewise, native Spanish speakers usually don’t aspirate any of their t’s p’s or k’s when they speak English, and that is one of the many little things that gives them an accent when they speak English.

Interesting stuff! Jim and I will need to be able to analyze an unwritten language with great detail so that we can appropriately reduce the language to writing. And we’re digging into it so that one day we can deliver the written Word of God to a people group who has never had it before!

Texas Salsa Recipe


Since Jim and I moved away from Texas a few years back to begin training with NTM (a mission organization), we have found ourselves temporarily living in two states – Michigan and Missouri – that, while great in their own ways, are strangers to good Southwestern cooking. This recipe is requested often, and I think every home needs to have good salsa, so I will do my part to make sure justice is served (Wyatt Earp would be so proud)!

Ingredients (makes 5 – 6 cups):

  • 1 dozen large roma tomatoes (or 2 lbs), cut in half lenthwise
  • 5 jalapeño peppers, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 large white onion (or a whole small onion), cut into 4ths
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 bunch (1 cup) cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin

Go to your local farmers market when these vegetables are in season (late-Summer) to get the freshest ingredients.

Cut the seeds out of all but one (two halves) of the peppers, and discard (Seeds from one pepper makes the salsa slightly spicy. If you like yours crazy-hot, go ahead and keep more of the seeds). Place the tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic on a pan, skin-side up, and brush the tops with canola oil.


Place the pan of vegetables under the broiler for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are good and charred.



Squeeze the juice out of the tomatoes.



Blend all ingredients together.



Chill before serving.



The salsa will keep in the fridge for about a week, but it also freezes well, so I like to divide it into smaller serving-size jars and freeze some for later use.

Ready to Hit the Books Again

After a great time in Texas, we’re happy to be back at NTM’s Missionary Training Center in Missouri for our second year of training here. Our first classes this semester will include Phonemics and Literacy, two of the many classes we have taken or will take that will help equip us to learn an unwritten tribal language, put the language into a written form, teach the native people to read the language, and translate Scripture into the language. Exciting Stuff! We’re eager to keep learning!

Summer in Tejas

We had a great year at the NTM Missionary Training Center in Missouri, and are now in Texas for the Summer. We are looking forward to hanging out and catching up with friends and family! We’ll be in College Station for most of June, in Dallas the first couple weeks of July, and in Abilene the last part of July/first part of August. Drop us a line when we’re in your area – we’d love to get together!

Also, as we see the light at the end of the tunnel in our training, we want to give you an idea of what our next few years will look like (Lord willing!).

NTM Missionary Training Center in Missouri until May, 2013.

Linguistics practicum in Oklahoma in the Fall of 2013.

Possible departure for Asia Pacific: April 2014.

Not Your Everyday Grammar Class

Often people ask us if we are learning language right now in our training.  The short answer is “No.” The reason we’re not, we usually explain, is that we do not yet know which people group we will end up among, and that wherever we do end up, the language is probably not going to be a written language, nor is it likely known by anyone outside of that group, so there is no way we can learn the language until we are actually there.

But while we are not studying any specific language right now, we are learning how to learn an unwritten language – how to analyze the structure and patterns of any given language (For example, have you ever considered why an English speaker would say “The big red ball,” instead of “The red big ball?”). We will need to fully understand the grammatical patterns of the language we work among so that we can put the language into writing, translate Scripture into the language, and teach the people to read their language.  This is the purpose of our current language training.

One of the classes we just finished was a Grammar class in which we analyzed the general grammatical patterns of dozens of different languages. Some of the languages are pretty complex, but below is a simple example to give you a taste of what we’ve been doing.  These words are nouns from the Michoacan Aztec language in Mexico.

nokali = my house
mopelomes = your dogs
ipelo = his dog
mokali = your house

See if you can break apart the words to figure out which part of the word is the noun root, which part of the word shows plurality, and which part shows ownership. The answers are in a comment, which you can access at the bottom right of this post.

Year In Review

Last night we ushered twenty-eleven out the door by watching a TV special of a guy jumping his motorcycle four hundred feet across a San Diego bay.  Well, I watched.  Rachel gracefully reclined in the cradle of my arm and torso with a glazed look in her eyes.  I admit it was not the most exciting way to end a year.  But the sleepy circumstance of our New Year’s Eve bears little resemblance to the twelve months that preceded it.

In short, we:

  • Watched Hudson learn to walk, run, and mumble a handful of words,
  • Completed our second and final year of Bible training at the New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson, Michigan,
  • Moved into our new apartment near Camdenton, MO to start the second phase of training at New Tribe’s Missionary Training Center,
  • Learned to hear, produce, and interact with the phonetic sounds found in languages worldwide.  We now know the difference between an unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop and a voiced velar fricative,
  • Received an introduction to contextualizing foundational Bible teachings for cross-cultural situations,
  • And began the process of contacting potential fields for future ministry.

In this new year, we are honored and blessed to have the opportunity to continue moving toward this goal: to preach God’s message of redemption to one of the 2000+ people groups that are still waiting to hear it.  This is not a sprint; it is a marathon.  So much preparation must still be done.  But we keep moving ahead with the joyful assurance that the Lord goes before us.

Thanks for your support, and happy new year!

Thankful for Phonetics

One of our classes right now is Phonetics. In the upcoming years we will likely be learning an unwritten language, so we have to be able to recognize, as well as reproduce, many sounds that we English speakers are not used to making. Jim and I both really enjoy this class, so we want to give you a taste of what we’re learning.

One thing we’ve had to learn to do is to make “unaspirated stops.” The letter “p” is one that English speakers aspirate when it is at the beginning of a word, but not when it is in the middle or end of a word. We are so used to this that it is often very difficult to not aspirate a “p” that is at the beginning of a word. To make an unaspirated “p,” put your hand an inch or two in front of your mouth, and try to say the word “pill” in a normal voice without letting a puff of air out with the “p.” … Can you do it? It will sound similar to the word “bill,” but there is a slight difference between the unaspirated “p” sound and the “b” sound. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two, because in many languages it will be the difference in two completely different words. In Thai, for example, the only difference in the word for “older sister or father or mother” and the word for “crazy” is that the former begins with an unaspirated “p,” and the latter begins with a “b.”

Vowels. Can you tell the difference between the vowel sounds in the words “caught” and “cot?” Perhaps you say these words the same, but there should be a slight difference in your mouth’s position – and this slight difference, in a tribal language, could be the difference in you speaking correctly and in you embarrassing yourself horribly or insulting your listeners. When we are learning our language in the tribe, our tribal language-learning helpers will not think to point out these seemingly slight differences to us – just as to us English speakers, we would not think that the words “pete” and “pit” sound similar, but most Indonesians cannot distinguish the difference in the two words. So, in order to learn the language, we must be able to recognize the slightest differences in vowel sounds.

Glottal Stops. Say “cotton” out loud. I’m willing to bet that you did not pronounce the t’s in the middle of the word, but instead made a glottal stop by closing your glottis (in your throat) to stop the air. Some British dialects use heavy glottal stops for words such as “bottle,” or “cattle.” Virtually all native English speakers unconsciously use glottal stops before words beginning with a vowel. Say the letter “a” out loud. Can you tell that you closed your throat before making the sound? Now say “hay.” Now say “hay” again, but this time with only thinking the “h,” and say the “ay” out loud.  In English, the presence or absence of glottal stops does not change the meaning of words, so we don’t even recognize that we use them. But the presence or absence of glottal stops in many other languages can determine the meaning of words. For example, in one language in the Solomon Islands, the only difference between the word for “you” and the word for “adultery” is nothing more than the glottal stop. – yikes!

This Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for NTM’s training!